Typhoon Haiyan Can’t Take Their Spirit Away


 By Holly Solberg, Director of Emergencies, CARE US, in Ormoc and Tacloban, Philippines

When I arrived in the area devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan almost a month after the disaster, everywhere I looked I saw houses with roofs blown off, fallen coconut trees and power lines twisted at funny angles.

What I didn’t expect to see was so much activity. People clearly started rebuilding the first day after the disaster.

No one is sitting idle, the streets are bustling and most shops have reopened. Roads are clear but piles of debris are stacked everywhere. There are vehicles in pools of water and homes by the sea that are hollow shells. I see lots of workers on the streets wearing masks, carting around wheelbarrows, cleaning up and sifting through the rubble. People are sheltering from the extreme heat in buildings that have no walls, doors or windows. Electricity is not back, so you hear the constant hum of generators in the evening.

The big shopping mall in Tacloban is completely destroyed and it’s eerie to see signs for Kentucky Fried Chichen and Shakey’s Pizza restaurants still there, but completely deserted. Passing the superdome that was used as an evacuation centre, I am reminded that many people died there because it flooded and they were trapped inside. I can hardly imagine such a nightmare situation.

Thankfully I have not seen the devastating scenes from just a few weeks ago. The team I am travelling with saw these places just days after the typhoon, and they are very impressed with the vastly improved conditions.

I am truly inspired by Alma, Ging and Mayet, three of the women who work for our local partner, ACCORD. As we plan out the next round of relief distributions together, it’s impressive to see how decisive, clear and organized they are. They also manage to remain cheerful in stressful situations. They tell me younger team members consider them elders. They simply refer to each other as "Amigas" or friends. A group of empowered women!

With Christmas around the corner, I’ve had some surreal moments on this trip, such as seeing a group of blind musicians at the port singing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" or people on the ferry on to Leyte singing Karaoke.

In spite of bearing the brunt of one of the world’s worst typhoons, people here are simply a happy sort, and thankfully this huge disaster can’t take their spirit away.

Read our blogs from the Philippines >
Learn more about CARE’s typhoon response >